DIY: Preserving Morels
By Eugenia Bone | Photo By Jim Klousia 2
Editor’s Note: Eugenia Bone is the author of Mycophilia: Revelations From the Weird World of Mushrooms, which explores the biology and culture of mycology and mycologists. If you've never eaten morels before, Eugenia cautions, “Keep in mind that all raw mushrooms are indigestible and some edible mushrooms are poisonous when eaten raw. Raw morels are poisonous, but cooked they are one of the most delicious foods on the planet.” Please cook all mushrooms thoroughly before eating. Edible Madison thanks Eugenia for her wonderful seasonal Edible Nation contribution, which includes this article as well as “Morel Mania” and a “Chicken with Sherry and Morels” recipe.
If you should be so lucky as to have more morels than you can eat fresh within a few days of picking, then drying is a good preservation method. Morels must be dried until less than ten percent moisture remains to ensure no microorganism can grow. That’s crisp enough to be easily broken.
If you need to keep the morels in the fridge for a day or two before drying, place them in a loosely closed paper bag in the fridge. The key to staving off spoilage is to keep them cool and dry, with a little ventilation.
There are three techniques: drying in a food dryer, air drying, and oven drying. To prepare the morels for drying, soak the morels in salted water, agitating them occasionally, for a few minutes to loosen any grit that may be captured in the folds of the cap. Do not allow them to soak for long as morels absorb water and will be harder to dry. Allow to drain thoroughly. Split large mushrooms (over 2 ½ inches tall) in half, longitudinally. Do not put the morels in the fridge after they have been washed.
To dry in a food dryer, place the clean morels in the dryer and set at 110 degrees for 8 to 10 hours. To air dry, thread a poultry needle with light culinary twine or dental floss and string clean morels longitudinally. Hang the strings in a dry, ventilated place for about 36 hours.
To dry in an oven, thread each mushroom through the stem with a needle threaded with about 6 inches of dental floss. Tie the mushrooms to a rack in your oven so they hang caps down and are well separated: adjust your oven racks to accommodate two layers of hanging morels, if you have that many. Remove any unused racks. Set the oven at the lowest temperature you can and leave the door partially open. If your oven is too hot (over 140 degrees), you may end up cooking the mushrooms, rather than simply removing all moisture from them. Many ovens cannot be set below 200 degrees, so set the oven to “warm” and leave the oven door partially open. Set the oven to the convection bake feature if you have one, as this will keep the air rotating. The mushrooms will dry in 8 to 10 hours, depending on their size. Properly dried morels should be brittle and broken easily.
Pack dried morels in freezer jars (a gallon of fresh morels will produce a quart of dried) and freeze for up to a year. You can also store them at room temperature in an airtight container but there will be some flavor loss over time. If your morels are not 90 percent moisture-free—if they feel leathery, for example—it’s okay, but then you must freeze them (process on next page).
To rehydrate morels, place them in a bowl of cool water, with a ratio of about 1 part morels to 3 parts water. To keep the morels submerged, fill a baggie with water and place it on top of the morels. After 10 to 20 minutes, they will be soft and return to their fresh shape, ready to cook. The water will be very flavorful. Strain it and use when cooking the morels.